I don’t know about you, but whenever a school break comes around, I’m as excited as my kids. It’s not just about having to think up creative school lunches. For me, the school break signifies a break from all other extra curricular activities. At least for a week or two anyway. When I talk to other parents, however, I know that my schedule doesn’t even compare to some whose kids are involved in competitive dance or in a hockey league which demands hours of everyone’s time. Multiply that by two or three children (and having to do a lot of it alone if you’re a single parent) and the running around can leave you feeling ragged.
This lifestyle, it appears, is considered normal by most. It’s just part of the whole parenting package, exhausted parents report. It’s true that being involved in extra curricular activities can be extremely beneficial. May even lead a child down a path towards a career. However, it’s important not to jump on the band wagon just because you think that’s what good parents are supposed to do.
I’ve always encouraged parents, and tried to follow my own good advice, to not enroll their children in more than two extra curricular activities per week. Religious school may be a third, depending on the family’s inclination and the age of the child. When my children were pre-schoolers, I enrolled them in more. Having two children born eight years apart certainly has its pluses. For instance, when my second was born, my first was already in grade two. I had more time at my disposal to explore different programs. At first, when my youngest was only a toddler, I checked out music, art and swim programs for moms and tots. As she got a little older, I noticed that she liked to climb and move in her physical space. So, we checked out gymnastics and found that she had a real aptitude for it. When she entered Grade one, we put gymnastics on the back burner and enrolled her in dance. That’s her passion now. She’d dance every day of the week if we had the time and financial resources. She attends dance class after school on two of her five weekdays. Religious school is my choice for her on another day. Swimming, an essential life skill, has been deferred to a once a week weekend activity from the end of June until September when there is no homework to worry about.
My older daughter, after seven years of once a week drama lessons and religious class, has put that behind her. She has found a new interest in learning to play the guitar and that’s about all she has time for with a heavy grade 12 workload.
In short, my recommendation is for parents to explore as much as time and money allows before their child goes into grade one. After that, it’s best to refine the choices according to your child’s interests or aptitude. Allow him or her to choose one activity per year, maybe alternating for a couple of years until she settles on one. A second choice, as I said, may be yours – an essential skill such as swimming, for example.
Children, like adults, can feel overwhelmed from always being on the run. A sandwich for dinner in the car three nights a week is not ideal. As well, by occupying our children every waking moment, we don’t teach them the value of enjoying their own company during quiet moments. It’s true that keeping them busy does sometimes keep them out of trouble, but sometimes to the detriment of the family.
Next calendar year think about what you want for your child, for yourself and for your family. Instead of piano or dance being that extra curricular activity, make family night the activity instead. It may sound old fashioned, but just reconnecting one night a week, instead of passing each other like ships in the night, can make all the difference.